This week we’ll be sharing our review of Hapa Li, one of Jacksonville’s newest food trucks. For a few weeks prior to their debut we’d been keeping a close eye on their Instagram and scoping out the Hawaiian food they were planning to offer because we were so ready for something different. Jacksonville has a rapidly growing food scene but we still lacks some niche food genres. Hawaiian food is one genre that went unfulfilled for a long time. Recently we got a chance to try Hapa Li for the first time. Due to our lack of experience with authentic Hawaiian, please note we don’t have a direct comparison there, but we will compare it to the general Hawaiian flavor profiles with which we are familiar.
Hapa Li has a little something for everyone. The owners, Stephanie and Sean Goldsberry, wanted to design a menu where there were offerings for people looking for traditional Hawaiian and offerings for those who want more familiar food. Hapa Li offers three main meats: huli huli chicken, kalua pig, and teriyaki beef. We opted for the kalua pig Luau plate for the sake of variety. It includes jasmine rice, shoyu noodles, Hawaiian mac salad, sesame ginger slaw, and lumpia. We also couldn’t help but order the Spamiyaki burger with hand pattied angus beef, crispy teriyaki spam, cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and sriracha mayo. We were lucky to be there on a day they had a featured special dessert, Haupia, for us to try as well.
While we were waiting on our food, we were chatting with Stephanie and Sean about their opening week. They said they were both surprised at how many guests they had that were extremely familiar with Hawaiian food because of being stationed in Hawaii for the military. Those guests were so thankful that they were bringing the traditional Hawaiian flavors to Jacksonville. This seemed a good indication to us that we were going to be experiencing authentic Hawaiian. After ordering, our food did take a bit to cook but it was a normal wait time considering the truck is new.
Advance warning: if you order a Spamiyaki burger, make sure to get an ample supply of napkins. This is a fork and knife burger for sure and so worth the mess. I loved the sriracha mayo sauce drizzled across the burger. It actually added a sweetness that was necessary to help balance out the salty spam. The burger itself was perfectly cooked and juicy and was complimented by the crispy spam slices laid across the top. I couldn’t really taste the teriyaki flavor, but that wasn’t bothersome and it didn’t detract from the deliciousness of the burger. Spam lovers, this burger was made for you!
The Luau plate we highly recommend on a first visit to Hapa Li. You get a small sampling of all the sides to try plus pork lumpia. We can say with certainty that Hapa Li has some of the best lumpia we have had in town. We’ll be sure to order it every time we return in the future. It was crispy and filled with shredded pork and extremely flavorful. We appreciated that it had been cooked fresh. There wasn’t the sogginess you sometimes get when lumpia sits for a while. The shoyu noodles are addictive and mixed with edamame and carrots for great texture and they also seem to have a light teriyaki flavor. The Hawaiian mac salad was a surprise stand out to us. Macaroni salad is a southern staple and just kind of “exists”, it usually isn’t special. This mac salad has a distinct sweetness that makes it outstanding. We’ve been craving it since we finished it and we can’t wait for more. The sesame ginger slaw was a nice, crisp, fairly tasty slaw with a just a hint of ginger. Finally, the kalua pig was outstanding. It is absolutely everything you want from a low and slow cooked pork. The meat fell apart as we were eating it and it wasn’t fatty. When cooking, the meat is just seasoned with salt and cooked in banana leaves so all the natural flavors and juices are trapped into the pork. It’s as mouth watering as it sounds! The dessert Haupia we wanted to research a little to understand it’s origin. Haupia is as popular as cake in Hawaii and is even frequently served at weddings as the event dessert. The top layer is best described as the texture of jello with the flavor of coconut milk which is on top of a pressed layer of macadamia nuts and topped with toasted coconut. We went into the dessert expecting it to be sweet, which it isn’t. It’s almost more savory with the macadamia nut crust. It’s definitely a unique and very authentic dish.
Hapa Li brings something unique to the Jacksonville food truck scene. It reminds us of the trucks we saw in the early days which offered something a bit different than you could walk into most restaurants in town and order. Needless to say, variety is definitely a good thing. Plus, the customer service from the owners is just what you’d expect from a Hawaiian truck – friendly, laid back, and relaxed. We have no doubt Hapa Li will have a dedicated following and find it’s place in what is quickly becoming a very crowded Jax food truck scene.